Research ArticleChemistry

Sulfur K-edge micro- and full-field XANES identify marker for preparation method of ultramarine pigment from lapis lazuli in historical paints

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Science Advances  01 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 18, eaay8782
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay8782


Ultramarine blue pigment, one of the most valued natural artist’s pigments, historically was prepared from lapis lazuli rock following various treatments; however, little is understood about why or how to distinguish such a posteriori on paintings. X-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy at the sulfur K-edge in microbeam and full-field modes (analyzed with nonnegative matrix factorization) is used to monitor the changes in the sulfur species within lazurite following one such historically relevant treatment: heating of lapis lazuli before extracting lazurite. Sulfur signatures in lazurite show dependence on the heat treatment of lapis lazuli from which it is derived. Peaks attributed to contributions from the trisulfur radical—responsible for the blue color of lazurite—increase in relative intensity with heat treatment paralleled by an intensified blue hue. Matching spectra were identified on lazurite particles from five historical paint samples, providing a marker for artists’ pigments that had been extracted from heat-treated lapis lazuli.

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